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Receiving in Advent

“To His own He came, but His own received Him not. But to those who did receive Him, He gave them power to become children of God.” (Jn 1:11)

The house was in readiness. Refrigerators stocked with Thanksgiving fixings, two pots of soup for quick pick-me-ups simmering on the stove, beds changed, gourds and bittersweet bringing fall inside, the table set for twenty-two. Every step was filled with joyful anticipation of the visit of our beloveds whom Covid had kept at distance for far too long. What delight to pour out love on them! They had raised their children in our midst, but after decades across town, business settled them across the country. Such sweet reunion in the air!

Yet loath as I was to admit it, an undeniable shift saturated the air as the visit unfolded. Our beloveds’ lives seemed charged with a level of sophistication that rendered all my homey welcome banal. “Stop it,” I thought. “Just keep loving.” No voice of the “accuser” welcome here. But the reserve–often chill–on the other side was palpable. A certain emptiness began to usurp the familiar joy of heart-connections and simple pleasures shared. Had they “moved on” in their lives past a point of no return? My whole being rejected such a thought. After the hub-bub was over and plains, trains and automobiles took our crowd away, I brought my ever-so-sad heart to Jesus in the Adoration Chapel. The sting of rejection hurt. “Unrequited love,” I wrote in my journal. Even as I rolled my eyes at such drama, those words felt so real. I stared up at Him in the monstrance. Immediately came the words from St. John’s Gospel, the opening chapter, “To His own He came, and His own received Him not.” Jesus knew this sting of love-with-no-place-to-go. His Mother knew it with Him. And as I tasted their vast sorrows of “unrequited love” through my small one, I was overcome with gratitude for the cosmic rejections they willingly suffer so my hurting heart could find a home. Here was an invitation for a new intimacy with Jesus and His Mother–an exchange of consolations, heart-to-heart. Thank you, my dearest Jesus…I have often felt so insufficient when it comes to meditating upon your Passion, which the saints urge us to do–but in your love you entice me there through the passions you allow in my own life. No wonder that lament burst forth from you, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Mat 23:37). How you yearn to give us your treasure, as I yearned to give mine, and what profound sadness when it is not received.

Not received… A throbbing wake-up call, given gently and with so much love, there as I sat before the monstrance… Where do I not receive you?! Here we are in Advent, with you growing in your Mother’s womb, even there loving us, blessing us, restoring us. The Kingdom of God has broken through! How do I miss it? Where do I not let the intimacies of your “table setting” and “cooking” and “bed-making” and “decorating” bring me home to you? Where do I break your heart with my not-receiving? Isaiah’s words in today’s first Mass reading foretell what is given right now: “The Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” I just received the richest food and choicest wine possible, YOU, in Communion. Let me revel in the wonder that you and I are one! Today’s psalm promised, “You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes.” Let my focus be on that table, trusting that you are revealing its riches to my beloved “foes.” And the Gospel? The loaves and fishes, with seven baskets–an infinitude–of leftovers. Lavish, lavish provision. Let me recognize it, taste it, dwell there, this Advent.

This feast of your love, home from Mass, extends everywhere–in the late autumn beyond my windows, in my husband’s footstep in the kitchen, in my messy desk, on which I spy a cherished book, Redeemer in the Womb, by Thomas Saward. I follow a nudge to my old underlinings: “According to the Angelic Doctor (St. Thomas Aquinas)…even as unborn child, Jesus looked on the Father’s face, and in the Father, he saw his members and loved them.” And from a century earlier (mid-twelfth), the English Cistercian, John of Ford, intuits that the embryonic Christ is already carrying his Cross. “There, in the confines of the womb, the Lamb of God was already taking away the sin of the world…and constantly interceding for us to the Father.” Five centuries later, the French Cardinal de Berulle asserts that “the guarantee of authentic Christianity” is the pregnant Mary–because, since we inherit original sin in our conception, “the very gateway of human existence needs rebuilding.” Then this bombshell: “In assuming a complete and concrete human nature, the universal Word…unites himself to every man, and, by living a complete human life from conception to the last breath, he touches and hallows every stage, every state, of every man’s existence.” By this union, Cardinal de Berulle says, every state of our lives is not only “sanctified,” but “deified.” Deified!

When I substitute my own name for the “them” and “world” and “us” and “we” and “every man” and “our,” I am pierced. What do I do with such staggering love, dear Jesus? I can feel deaf and dumb at your eager words from “The Song of Songs,”–“you ravish My heart.” Help me receive! When I do, mercy makes all things new, love dissolves all hurt. You were my Bridegroom even in your Mother’s womb. You saw me, and loved me, and united yourself to me, and me to yourself, even there. You rebuilt the “very gateway” of my existence, my own womb-life, in which the seeds of my ancient inheritance were strewn–insecurities, anxiety, pride, self-reliance, among so many others–and assured that every moment of my life could be lifted into your very life. Every one. Our Thanksgiving struggle is already filled with your glory. You interceded for me, in the golden safety of your Mother’s haven, that this troubled moment could allow me to receive more deeply that very home, and keep you company there, soothed by her lullaby, “the light will not overcome the darkness.” May its melody inform every movement of my life. May its treasure knit together all unravellings. Oh, dear Mother, my own as surely as you were Jesus’, I can be so fickle, so blind. Stay my heart with yours in the heaven-home of union with your Son, where Love holds me fast. Let me taste the soups He has simmering for me, the beauty He fashions for me, the sheets, fresh and clean, always in readiness. Teach me how to receive His life, to be His life, and to give it away, as you did.


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